James Fenimore Cooper.

The water witch; or, The skimmer of the seas. A tale (Volume 1) online

. (page 7 of 13)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe water witch; or, The skimmer of the seas. A tale (Volume 1) → online text (page 7 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


was occupied by the buildings. It was thickly
sprinkled with fruit trees, and here and there
was a pine, or an oak of the native growth. A
declivity that was rather rapid fell away in front,
to the level of the mouth of the river. In short,
it was an ample but an unpretending country
house, in which no domestic convenience had
been forgotten, while it had little to boast of in
the way of architecture, except its rusty vanes
and twisted chimneys. A few out-houses, for
the accommodations of the negroes, were nigh,
and nearer to the river there were barns and



THE WATER WITCH, 151

stables of dimensions and materials altogether
superior to those that the appearance of the
arable land, or the condition of the small farm,
would seem to render necessary. The periagua,
in which the proprietor had made his passage
across the outer bay, lay at a small wooden
wharf immediately below.

For the earlier hours of the evening, the
flashing of candles and a general and noisy
movement among the blacks, had denoted the
presence of the master of the villa. But the
activity had gradually subsided, and before the
clock struck nine, the manner in which the lights
were distributed, and the general silence, showed
that the party, most probably fatigued with their
journey, had already separated for the night.
The clamour of the negroes had ceased, and the
quiet of deep sleep was already prevailing among
their humble dwellings.

At the northern extremity of the villa, which,
it will be remembered, leaned against the moun
tain, and facing the east, or fronting the river



152 THE WATER WITCH.

and the sea, there stood a little wing, even more
deeply embowered in shrubbery and low trees
than the other parts of the edifice, and which
was constructed altogether in a different style.
This was a pavilion erected for the particular
accommodation, and at the cost, of la Belle Bar-
berie. Here the heiress of the two fortunes
was accustomed to keep her own little menage
during the weeks passed in the country, and
here she amused herself in those pretty and
feminine employments that suited her years and
tastes. In compliment to the beauty and origin
of its inhabitant, the gallant Fran9ois had
christened this particular portion of the villa
La Cour des Fees, a name that had gotten into
general use, though somewhat corrupted in
sound.

On the present occasion, the blinds of the
principal apartment of the pavilion were open,
and its mistress was still to be seen at one of
the windows. Alida was at an age when the
sex is most sensible of lively impressions, and



THE WATER WITCH. 153

she looked abroad on the loveliness of the land
scape, and on the soft stillness of the night,
with the pleasure that such a mind is wont to
contemplate objects of natural beauty.

There was a young moon, and a firmament
glowing with a myriad of stars. The light
was shed softly on the water, though, here
and there, the ocean glittered with its rays.
A nearly imperceptible, but what seamen call
a heavy air, came off the sea, bringing with
it the refreshing coolness of the hour. The
surface of the immense waste was perfectly
unruffled, both within and without the barrier
of sand that forms the cape ; but the body of
the element was heaving and setting heavily,
in a manner to resemble the sleeping respi
ration of some being of huge physical frame.
The roar of the surf, which rolled up in long
and white curls upon the sands, was the only
audible sound ; but that was heavy and inces
sant, sometimes swelling on the air, hollow
and threatening, and at others dying in dull
H 3



154 THE WATER WITCH.

and distant murmurs on the ear. There was
a charm in these varieties of sound, and in
the solemn stillness of such a night, that
drew Alida into her little balcony, and she
leaned forward, beyond its shadow of sweet-
briar, to gaze at a part of the bay that was
not visible, in the front view, from her windows.

La Belle Barberie smiled, when she saw
the dim masts and dark hull of a ship, which
was anchored near the end of the cape, and
within its protection. There was the look of
womanly pride in her dark eye, and haply
some consciousness of womanly power in the
swell of her rich lip, while a taper finger beat
the bar of the balcony rapidly, and without
consciousness of its employment.

" The loyal Captain Ludlow has quickly
ended his cruise !" said the maiden aloud, for
she spoke under the influence of a triumph that
was too natural to be suppressed. " I shall be
come a convert to my uncle s opinions, and think
the Queen badly served."



THE WATER WITCH. 155

" He who serves one mistress faithfully,
has no light task, returned a voice from
among the shrubbery that grew beneath and
nearly veiled the window ; " but he who is
devoted to two, may well despair of success
with both !"

Alida recoiled, and, at the next instant, she
saw her place occupied by the commander of
the Coquette. Before venturing to cross the
low barrier that still separated him from the
little parlour, the young man endeavoured to
read the eye of its occupant, and then, either
mistaking its expression, or bold in his years
and hopes, he entered the room.

Though certainly unused to have her apart
ment scaled with so little ceremony, there was
neither apprehension nor wonder in the coun
tenance of the fair descendant of the Huguenot.
The blood mantled more richly on her cheek,
and the brightness of an eye, that was never
dull, increased, while her fine form became firm
and commanding.



156 THE WATER WITCH.

" I have heard that Captain Ludlow gained
much of his renown by gallantry in boarding,"
she said, in a voice whose meaning admitted of
no misconception, " but I had hoped his ambi
tion was satisfied with laurels so fairly won from
the enemies of his country !"

se A thousand pardons, fairest Alida, inter
rupted the youth ; " you know the obstacles
that the jealous watchfulness of your uncle op
poses to my desire to speak with you."

" They are then opposed in vain, for Alder
man Van Beverout has weakly believed the sex
and condition of his ward would protect her from
these coups-de-main."

" Nay, Alida, this is being more capricious
than the winds ! You know too well how far
my suit is unpleasant to your guardian, to
torture a slight departure from cold observances
into cause of serious complaint. I had hoped
perhaps, I should say, I have presumed on the
contents of your letter, for which 1 return a
thousand thanks ; but do not thus cruelly de-



THE WATER WITCH, 157

stroy expectations that have so lately been raised
beyond the point, perhaps, which reason may
justify."

The glow which had begun to subside on the
face of la Belle Barberie again deepened, and
for a moment it appeared as if her high self-
dependence was a little weakened. After an
instant of reflection, however, she answered
steadily, though not entirely without emotion.

" Reason, Captain Ludlow, has limited female
propriety within narrow limits," she said. " In
answering your letter, I have consulted good
nature more than prudence, and I find that
you are not slow in causing me to repent the
error."

" If I ever cause you to repent confidence
in me, sweet Alida, may disgrace in my pro
fession, and the distrust of the whole sex be
my punishment ! But have I not reason to
complain of this inconstancy on your part ?
Ought I to expect so severe a reprimand
severe, because cold and ironical for an of-



158 THE WATER WITCH.

fence venial as the wish to proclaim my gra
titude ?"

" Gratitude !" repeated Alida, and this time
her wonder was not feigned. " The word is
strong. Sir ; and it expresses more than an
act of courtesy, so simple as that which may
attend the lending a volume of popular poetry,
can have any right to claim."

" I have strangely misconceived the meaning
of the letter, or this has been a day of folly !"
said Ludlow, endeavouring to swallow his dis
content. " But, no; I have your own .words to
refute that averted eye and cold look, and, by
the faith of a sailor, Alida, I will believe your
deliberate and well-reflected thoughts, before
these capricious fancies, which are unworthy
of your nature. Here are the very words ;
I shall not easily part with the flattering hopes
they convey !"

c; La Belle Barberie now regarded the young
man in open amazement. Her colour changed,
for of the indiscretion of writing, she knew



THE WATER WITCH. 159

she was not guiltless, but of having written
in terms to justify the confidence of the other,
she felt no consciousness. The customs of
the age, the profession of her suitor, and the
hour, induced her to look steadily into his face,
to see whether the man stood before her in
all the decency of his reason. But Ludlow
had the reputation of being exempt from a vice
that was then but too common among seamen,
and there was nothing in his ingenuous and
really handsome features, to cause her to dis
trust his present discretion. She touched a
bell, and signed to her companion to be seated.

66 Francois," said his mistress, when the old
valet, but half awake, entered the apartment,
66 fais-moi le plaisir de m apporter de cette eau
de la fontaine du bosquet, et du vin le Capi-
taine Ludlow a soif ; et rappelle-toi, bon Fran-
9ois, il ne faut pas deranger mon oncle a cette
heure ; il doit etre bien fatigue de son voyage."

When her respectful and respectable servitor
had received his commission and departed, Alida



160 THE WATER WITCH.

took a seat herself, in the confidence of having
deprived the visit of Ludlow of its clandestine
character, and at the same time of having em
ployed the valet on an errand that would leave
her sufficient leisure to investigate the inexpli
cable meaning of her companion.

" You have my word, Captain Ludlow, that
this unseasonable appearance in the pavilion is
indiscreet, not to call it cruel,"" she said, so soon
as they were again alone ; " but that you have
it in any manner to justify your imprudence
I must continue to doubt, until confronted by
proof."

" I had thought to have made a very differ
ent use of this/ returned Ludlow, drawing a
letter we admit it, with some reluctance in
one so simple and so manly from his bosom ;
" and even now I take shame in producing it,
though at your own orders."

" Some magic has wrought a marvel, or the
scrawl has no such importance," observed Alida,
taking a billet, that she now began to repent



THE WATER WITCH. 161

having ever written. " The language of polite
ness and female reserve must admit of strange
perversions, or all who read are not the best in
terpreters."

La Belle Barberie ceased speaking, for the
instant her eye fell on the paper, an absorbing
and intense curiosity got the better of her resent
ment. We shall give the contents of the letter
precisely in the words which caused so much
amazement, and possibly some little uneasiness,
to the fair creature who was perusing it.

u The life of a seaman," said the paper, in a
delicate and beautiful female hand, " is one of
danger and exposure. It inspires confidence in
woman by the frankness to which it gives birth,
and it merits indulgence by its privations. She
who writes this is not insensible to the merit of
men of this bold calling. Admiration for the
sea, and for those who live on it, has been her
weakness through life, and her visions of the
future, like her recollections of the past, are not
entirely exempt from a contemplation of its



162 THE WATER WITCH.

pleasures. The usages of different nations,
glory in arms, change of scene, with constancy
in the affections, all sweetened by affluence, are
temptations too strong for a female imagination,
and they should not be without their influence
on the judgment of man. Adieu."

This note was read, re-perused, and for the
third time, conned, ere Alida ventured to raise
her eyes to the face of the expectant young man.

"And this indelicate and unfeminine rhap^-
sody, Captain Ludlow has seen proper to ascribe
to me !" she said, while her voice trembled
between pride and mortification.

" To whom else can I impute it ? No other,
lovely Alida, could utter language so charming
in words so properly chosen."

The long lashes of the maiden played quickly
above their dark organs, and then conquering
feelings that were strangely in contradiction to
each other, she said with dignity, turning to a
little ebony ecritoire which lay beside her dress
ing box,



THE WATER WITCH. 163

" My correspondence is neither very impor
tant nor very extensive, but such as it is, hap
pily for the reputation of the writer s taste, if
not for her sanity, I believe it is in my power to
show the trifle I thought it decorous to write in
reply to your own letter. Here is a copy,"
she added, opening what in fact was a draught,
and reading aloud

" I thank Captain Ludlow for his attention
in affording me an opportunity of reading a
narrative of the cruel deeds of the buccaneers.
In addition to the ordinary feelings of humanity,
one cannot but regret that men so heartless are
to be found in a profession that is commonly
thought to be generous, and tender of the weak.
We will, however, hope that the very wicked
and cowardly among seamen exist only as foils,
to render the qualities of the very bold and
manly more conspicuous. No one can be more
sensible of this truth than the friends of Captain
Ludlow, 1 the voice of Alida fell a little as she
came to this sentence, " who has not now to



164 THE WATER WITCH.

earn a reputation for mercy. In return I send
the copy of the Cid, which honest Francois
affirms to be superior to all other poems, not
even excepting Homer, a book which I believe
he is innocent of calumniating from ignorance of
its contents. Again thanking Captain Ludlow
for this instance of his repeated attentions, I beg
he will keep the volume until he shall return
from his intended cruise."

" This note is but a copy of the one you
have, or ought to have," said the niece of
the Alderman, as she raised her glowing face
from leaning over the paper, " though it is not
signed, like that, with the name of Alida de
Barberie."

When this explanation was over, both parties
sat looking at each other in silent amazement.
Still Alida saw, or thought she saw, that not
withstanding the previous professions of her
admirer, the young man rejoiced he had been
deceived. Respect for delicacy and reserve in
the other sex is so general and so natural among



THE WATER WITCH. 165

men, that they who succeed the most in destroy
ing its barriers rarely fail to regret their tri
umph ; and he who truly loves can never long
exult in any violation of propriety in the object
of his affections, even though the concession be
made in his own favour. Under the influence
of this commendable and healthful feeling, Lud-
low, while he was in some respects mortified at
the turn affairs had taken, felt sensibly relieved
from a load of doubt to which the extraordinary
language of the letter he believed his mistress to
have written had given birth. His companion
read the state of his mind in a countenance that
was frank as face of sailor could be, and though
secretly pleased to gain her former place in his
respect, she was also vexed and wounded that
he had ever presumed to distrust her reserve.
She still held the inexplicable billet, and her
eyes naturally sought the lines. A sudden
thought seemed to strike her mind, and return
ing the paper, she said, coldly

" Captain Ludlow should know his corres-



166 THE WATER WITCH.

pondent better ; I much mistake if this be the
first of her communications."

The young man coloured to the temples, and
hid his face for a moment in the hollow of his
hands.

" You admit the truth of my suspicions,"
continued la Belle Barberie, " and cannot be
insensible of my justice, when I add that hence
forth"

" Listen to me, Alida," cried the youth, half
breathless in his haste to interrupt a decision
that he dreaded ; " hear me, and as Heaven is
my judge, you shall hear only truth. I confess
this is not the first of the letters written in the
same hand perhaps I should say in the same
spirit but on the honour of a loyal officer 1
affirm, that until circumstances led me to think
myself so happy so very happy "

" I understand you, Sir ; the work was ano
nymous until you saw fit to inscribe my name
as its author. Ludlow ! Ludlow ! how meanly



THE WATER WITCH. 167

have you thought of the woman you profess to
love !"

"That were impossible! I mingle little with
those who study the finesse of life, and loving
as I do my noble profession, Alida, was it so
unnatural to believe that another might view it
with the same eyes? But since you disavow
the letter nay, your disavowal is unnecessary
I see my vanity has even deceived me in the
writing ; but since the delusion is over, I con
fess that I rejoice it is not so."

La Belle Barberie smiled, and her counte
nance grew brighter. She enjoyed the triumph
of knowing that she merited the respect of her
suitor, and it was a triumph heightened by re
cent mortification. Then succeeded a pause of
more than a minute. The embarrassment of
the silence was happily interrupted by the return
of Francois.

" Mam selle Alide, voici de Teau de la fon-
taine," said the valet ; " mais Monsieur votre
oncle s^est couche, et il a mis la clef de la cave



168 THE WATER WITCH.

au vin dessous son oreiller. Ma foi, ce n est pas
facile d avoir du bon vin du tout, en Amerique ;
mais apres que Monsieur le maire s est couche,
c est toujours impossible ; voila !"

" N importe, mon cber ; le capitaine va partir,
et il n a plus soif."

(i Dere is assez de jin," continued the valet,
who felt for the captain s disappointment, " mais
Monsieur Loodle have du gout, an 1 he n aime
pas so strong liqueur."

" He has swallowed already more than was
necessary for one occasion," said Alida, smiling
on her admirer in a manner that left him doubt
ful whether he ought most to repine or to re
joice. " Thank you, good Francois ; your duty
for the night shall end with lighting the captain
to the door."

Then saluting the young commander in a
manner that would not admit of denial, la Belle
Barberie dismissed her lover and the valet to
gether.

" You have a pleasant office, Monsieur Fran-



THE WATER WITCH. 169

cois," said the former, as he was lighted to the
outer door of the pavilion ; " it is one that
many a gallant gentleman would envy."

" Oui, Sair. It be grand plaisir to serve
Mam selle Alide. Je porte de fan, de book,
mais quant au vin ? Monsieur le Capitaine, parole
d honneur, c est toujours impossible apres que
TAldermain s est couche."

" Ay the book I think you had the agree
able duty to-day of carrying the book of la
Belle ?"

" Vraiment, oui ! Twas ouvrage de Monsieur
Pierre Corneille. On pretend que Monsieur
Shak-a-speare en a emprunte d assez beaux sen
timents !"

" And the paper between the leaves ? you
were charged also with that note, good Fran
cois ?"

The valet paused, shrugged his shoulders,
and laid one of his long yellow fingers on the
plane of an enormous aquiline nose while he

VOL. I. I



WATER WITCH.



seemed to muse. Then shaking his head per
pendicularly, he preceded the captain as before,
muttering as usual, half in French and half in
English

" For le papier, I know, rien du tout ; c n est
bien possible, parceque, voyez-vous, Monsieur
le Capitaine, Mam selle Alide did say, prenez-y
garde ; but I no see him, depuis. Je suppose
twas beaux compliments ecrits on de vers of
Mr. Pierre Corneille. Quel genie que celui de
cet homme-la ! n est ce pas, Monsieur ?"

" It is of no consequence, good Francois,"
said Ludlow, slipping a guinea into the hands
of the valet. " If you should ever discover
what became of that paper, however, you will
oblige me by letting me know. Good night ;
mes devoirs a la Belle !"

" Bon soir, Monsieur le Capitaine ; c est un
brave Monsieur que celui-la, et de tres-bonne
famille ! II n a pas de si grandes terres, que
Monsieur le Patteroon, pourtant, on dit, qu il
doit avoir de jolies maisons et assez de rentes



THE WATER WITCH.

publiques ! J aime a servir un si genereux et
loyal maitre, mais, malheureusement, il est
marin ! M. de Barberie n avait pas trop d ami-
tie pour les gens de cette profession-la."



i 2



172 THE WATER WITCH.



CHAPTER VIII.

"WeD, Jessica, go in;

Perhaps I will return immediately

Do as I bid you,

Shut doors after you : Fast bind, fast find ;

A proverb never stale in thrifty mind."

Merchant of Venice.

THE decision with which la Demoiselle Bar-
berie had dismissed her suitor, was owing to
some consciousness that she had need of oppor
tunity to reflect on the singular nature of the
events which had just happened, no less than to
a sense of the impropriety of his visiting her at
that hour, and in a manner so equivocal. But,
like others who act from feverish impulses, when



THE WATER WITCH. 173

alone, the maiden repented of her precipitation,
and she remembered fifty questions which might
aid in clearing the affair of its mystery that she
would now gladly put. It was too late, how
ever, for she had heard Ludlow take his leave,
and had listened in breathless silence to his foot
step as he passed the shrubbery of her little
lawn. Franois reappeared at the door to re
peat his wishes for her rest and happiness, and
then she believed she was finally alone for the
night, since the ladies of that age and country
were little apt to require the assistance of their
attendants in assuming or in divesting them
selves of their ordinary attire.

It was still early, and the recent interview had
deprived Alida of all inclination for sleep. She
placed the lights in a distant corner of the
apartment and approached a window. The
moon had so far changed its position as to cast
a different light upon the water. The hollow
washing of the surf, the dull but heavy breath
ing of the air from the sea, and the soft shadows



174 THE WATER WITCH.

of the trees and mountain, were much the same.
The Coquette lay as before at her anchor near
the cape, and the Shrewsbury glittered towards
the south, until its surface was concealed by
the projection of a high and nearly perpendicu
lar bluff.

The stillness was profound, for with the ex
ception of the dwelling of the family who occu
pied the estate nearest the villa, there was no
other habitation within some miles of the place.
Still the solitude of the situation was undis
turbed by any apprehension of danger, or any
tradition of violence from rude and lawless men.
The peaceable character of the colonists who
dwelt in the interior country was proverbial,
and their habits simple, while the ocean was
never entered by those barbarians, who rendered
some of the seas of the other hemisphere as fear
ful as they were pleasant.

Notwithstanding this known and customary
character of tranquillity, and the lateness of the
hour, Alida had not been many moments in her



THE WATER WITCH.

balcony before she heard the sound of oars.
The stroke was measured and the noise low
and distant, but it was too familiar to be mis
taken. She wondered at the expedition of
Ludlow, who was not accustomed to show
such haste in quitting her presence, and leaned
over the railing to catch a glimpse of his de
parting boat. Each moment she expected to
see the little bark issue from out of the shadows
of the land, into the sheet of brightness which
stretched nearly to the cruiser. She gazed long
and in vain, for no barge appeared, and yet the
sound had become inaudible. A light still hung
at the peak of the Coquette, a sign that the com
mander was out of his vessel.

The view of a fine ship, seen by the aid of
the moon, with its symmetry of spars, and its
delicate tracery of cordage, and the heavy and
grand movements of the hull as it rolls on the
sluggish billows of a calm sea, is ever a pleasing
and indeed an imposing spectacle. Alida knew
that more than a hundred human beings slept



176 THE WATER WITCH.

within the black and silent mass, and her
thoughts insensibly wandered to the business of
their daring lives, their limited abode, and yet
wandering existence, their frank and manly qua
lities, their devotion to the cause of those who oc
cupied the land, their broken and interrupted
connection with the rest of the human family,
and finally to those weakened domestic ties, and
to that reputation for inconstancy, which are ap
parently a natural consequence of all. She sighed,
and her eye wandered from the ship to that ocean,


1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe water witch; or, The skimmer of the seas. A tale (Volume 1) → online text (page 7 of 13)